The progressive Jewish dilemma

In the aftermath of the Emanuel 9 massacre in Charleston, the renewed urgency expressed by many South Carolina citizens to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the State House grounds, and that flag’s ultimate and historic removal, I find myself in a familiar role of trying to do the right thing.  When I see injustice, I feel like it is my personal duty to stand up for those against whom the injustice is being levied.  I’ve been this way my entire life.

In this regard, I’ve become active with certain black empowerment groups.  And, what usually happens when I get active with progressive causes that I believe in, I end up coming face to face with anti-Semitism in a big way, and generally, it’s from my own allies.  This time is no different.  While I’m calling out racists and racism from the extreme right, I’m being bombarded with anti-Jew rhetoric from the (mostly white) extreme left.  These are people who think Jews are elite because, “they’re all rich,” or “they own the banks,” or “they run the media, or “Jews did 9/11.”  These are people who think Jews don’t have the right to self-determination in our ancestral homeland, even if we are indigenous to that land and modern-day Israel is a secular, progressive liberal country that stands for equal rights for all.

These people tend to have a very superficial understanding of the Arab/Israeli conflict and because they see Jews as white and Arabs as brown, the Jews are automatically the bad guys in their eyes (meanwhile there are DNA studies galore that demonstrate that Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrachi Jews originate from the Middle East).  These people justify Palestinian terror against Jewish civilians, they lie about Israel initiating attacks, and most telling, when Palestinians are being oppressed by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (their two sovereign governments), Lebanon, Jordan, Syria or ISIS, they have absolutely nothing to say.  That is the true mark of an anti-Semite vs. a pro-Palestinian activist — they are only vocal when it comes to Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians.

These are people who forget that Jews have been and remain one of the most persecuted groups on the planet.   In the US alone, according to the 2013 FBI Uniform Crime Reports, of the religiously motivated hate crimes committed, Jews were the victims of 60.6% of those hate crimes, the highest percentage of all religiously motivated hate crimes.  The second highest incident of religiously motivated hate crimes occurred against Muslims, who were victims of 13.7%.  Yet, these same progressives will wax on and on about Islamophobia as if it’s a hugely pervasive problem, yet they bristle if you bring up anti-Semitism because they seem to believe that Jews are too powerful to be victimized, which of course, ironically, is anti-Semitism.

We hear cries of “Go back to Europe,” except they forget that we were and are considered outsiders in Europe, as demonstrated by the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the pogroms, and the murders against Jews that continue to this day. So, since we can’t go back to Europe, what about the Middle East?  There’s only one country in the Middle East where Jews are welcome and that is Israel.  But they don’t want us there because they are of the ignorant, uneducated belief that Israel occupied a country called Palestine, a country that did not exist.

They have no knowledge of the San Remo Conference, no knowledge of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, no knowledge of the mandates that were arranged by the League of Nations putting France and Great Britain in charge of dividing the land that had been occupied by the Turks for 624 years.  They have no idea that Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel all became countries around the same timeframe because of those mandates.  They fail to understand that Jordan was 73% of the British Mandate of Palestine and was given to the Arabs and the Jews were told to leave.  They fail to understand that the small remaining percentage of the British Mandate of Palestine became Israel and the Arabs were welcomed to stay and currently comprise 20% of the free and equal citizenry of Israel.

They have no knowledge of the Oslo Accords and how that further partitioned the land into Palestinian sovereign territory in parts of the West Bank, yet claim that Israel is apartheid even though, essentially, these are two different countries.  They claim this while completely ignoring free and equal Arab Israeli citizens who have more freedom as Israelis than Arabs in any other Middle Eastern country.  They like to claim that there are plenty of anti-Zionist Jews, which is ridiculous.  There are a few anti-Zionist Jews, but out of the 13 million Jews on the planet, only about 1%, if that, are against Jews having the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.

The willful ignorance is astounding and it stems from a desire to demonize Jews.  When Jordan was occupying the Palestinians from 1948 to 1967, no one cared.  When Black September happened and approximately 10,000 Palestinians were massacred by the Jordanian government in one month (Yasser Arafat’s figures), no one cared.

These people believe they are righteous in their denouncements of Israel, yet while advocating for Palestinian self-determination, they are advocating against Jewish self-determination.  Both people should have self-determination, yet these simplistic minds believe the two are mutually exclusive.  These people have become the very thing they hate — bigots.

Most Jews I know have experienced anti-Semitism in some fashion.  Most Muslims I know have not experienced Islamophobia in some fashion.  I have yet to meet a Muslim who was put on a mailing list for the Aryan Nation or had a Molotov cocktail thrown in his or her yard by skinheads, but both of those things have happened to me.

What about all the work Jews have done on behalf of black civil rights?  Jews helped found the NAACP in 1909 and one of the founders, Joel Spingarn, provided the initial strategies that enabled the organization to grow and become an essential legal advocate for black empowerment.  Jews were exceedingly present and active during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and some died for the cause.

I don’t mention this as quid pro quo; I mention it because Jews, as a group, have proven our credibility as being dedicated to the cause of black empowerment.  Many Jews work toward empowering Palestinians too, but the groups you hear about most advocate this empowerment at the cost of Jewish lives.  The people who are doing the truly righteous work in working toward peace between Jews and Palestinians at the cost and demonization of no one are not well-known and are not loud.  They are quietly doing the work and building bridges.

What this boils down to is co-opting someone else’s tragedy for gain.  The anti-Israel activists have attempted to insert themselves into the Ferguson and Charleston tragedies.  They are trying to equate the Israel/Palestine issue to racism and brutality against black people in the US.

These two issues are so incredibly different and for the anti-Israel crowd to attempt to piggyback on the backs of black people, who are still trying to get their voices heard and their rights and standing in this country solidified, is despicable.  It is the epitome of opportunism.  I don’t discuss Israel issues when I’m working for black empowerment in my town, state or country.  It’s irrelevant.

I don’t discuss the similarities between the massacre of four rabbis praying at synagogue in Jerusalem at the hands of a Palestinian terrorist to the massacre of nine people attending bible study at church in Charleston at the hands of a white terrorist.  That would be tacky because this is the black community’s time to deal with their own tragedy without having to consider others’ tragedies.  Yet, that is precisely what the anti-Israel folks are doing — bringing up every real or imagined Palestinian tragedy when discussing what’s happening in the US to our black neighbors.

How can I continue to be a pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-black and gay rights progressive working for justice, equality and peace when some of whom I’m working with are willing to throw me to the lions?

About the Author
Debbie Hall is a writer and activist living in the diaspora.
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